The best researched plans don’t always work out well

Part 2 of my scary ordeal


Numerous paths strewn with brown pine needles suggested trails that rarely panned out.

The first installment of my hike in Vietnam chronicles my decision to set out without map or working phone to reach the peak of Lang Biang in Dalat.

Among the three sets of directions I had printed out was this one:

The trail starts about 200-300m from the gate of Lang Biang Base. Follow the paved road that the jeeps take and after 200-300m, take the first dirt road to the right. . . It will go down a hill and there will be greenhouses on the right side of the road.

Simple enough, I thought, except I spotted only a green house, not a greenhouse, and assumed the faint trail that I saw there was the one to take.  Uh, it wasn’t.  I should have known better after reading more of the directions:

At the end of the row of greenhouses and prior to the road making a right hand turn, you need to take a path to the left that goes up a hill.

Except for one thing: The path was level for a short time and then it faded.  Moreover, there was no row of greenhouses.  In fact, there was nothing around me but a forest of pines.  An individual wiser and more patient than me would have reversed course then, but I made the mistake of assuming that the directions were wrong, outdated or not applicable to where I found myself.  I read on:

Keep walking up the hill and there are some fields that you will want to pass between (there will be barbed wire on both sides). . .

Okay, I was now officially off the track, there being none of those features in sight, yet I figured that I would find my way eventually if I just kept going up.  Also, I found some comfort in occasionally hearing those jeeps rumble toward their destination.  One problem was that I didn’t always hear them and anyway assumed that switchbacks on the road made the origin of the sounds suspect.

If you have climbed a mountain, maybe you experienced the expectation that the approaching blue sky through the treetops suggested a summit.  In a sense, that’s true.  However, it could be a mere ridge; there often is a peak or peaks beyond that false promise, and choices have to be made.

I alternately made myself confident that I’d reach the ticket hut where the well-traversed trail to the top began or I felt hopelessly lost as I struggled onward.  Given that the roundtrip on foot easily can take more than five hours, how would anyone know I was lost?  How would they know where to look for me?

My mind reflected on the survivor shows that I had surfed past on television and any information I had skimmed about my situation.  I was remembering news accounts of individuals rescued after days in the woods, weak, malnourished, thirsty, cold, sick and scared.  (I subsequently learned about a young man who died will hiking up another mountain in Vietnam.)

Should I try to go back, head unwaveringly left in the direction of the road I had left, keep walking up in spite of having to choose among various ups, stay put, attempt to fashion a shelter?  

It was an hour or two before noon, so there was a great deal of daylight left.  I chose to press forward, even if that meant negotiating a trail that sometimes headed slightly down.

The terrain was forbiddingly sheer in places, the correct route undefined, the ground occasionally slick with pine needles or divided by rocky gullies through which water would pour during the rainy season.  The brambles and thorns through which I plunged tore the skin on my bare arms.

Someone who had risen past Tenderfoot might have been better prepared than I was wearing sneakers and T-shirt and having neither map nor working phone.

Next: Onward, always obstinately onward


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